Short Takes on Four Albums

Holly Golightly & The Brokeoffs

Holly Golightly & The BrokeoffsMedicine County

The prolific Holly Golightly made a name for herself fronting the British band Thee Headcoatees in the 1990s, released a slew of solo albums, and cemented her cult status with a humorously dryly sly guest duet with Jack White on The White Stripes tune “It’s True That We Love One Another”.  Medicine County is the third album from Holly and Lawyer Dave (he is The Brokeoffs) and her latest foray into the country and blues styles.  The songs were recorded in Madison, Georgia in an abandoned church and Holly ‘n’ Lawyer Dave convey a casual, lived-in, back porch charm on eight easy-going originals that mingle freely with four covers that include “Blood on the Saddle” and “Jack O’ Diamonds”.  Holly’s vocals are dry, sweetly tart, and pinched – a good fit for the twangy, rough-hewn, guitar-based Americana on display.

Opener “Forget It” isn’t representative of the overall sound, but it’s an interesting mix of snaky, spy movie-like reverb guitar, swaying tropical beat, weaving organ notes, and a sinewy, side-winding Holly sing-talking “And when you steal a heart that’s true / be sure you know just what you do.”  Holly and Lawyer Dave harmonize with indignance on the sharply exclaimed vocals of “Two Left Feet” as slide guitar ricochets and reverbs against a sauntering, ‘horse-rode-into-town’ beat.  A lively interplay of light fiddles and banjo spruces up “I Can’t Lose” as Holly sings in a plain, but sweeter tone “All you’ve shown me / shows that I can’t lose this one.”

“Eyes in the Back of My Head” recalls The White Stripes with its down-home tempo that shuffles along amiably as strummed guitars move around Holly and Lawyer Dave’s jaunty, mirrored vocals with the agreeable lyrics of “Say what you will / I ain’t gonna be still / ‘til one of us’ll end up dead.”  Holly aims for a serious mood on the contemplative “Dearly Departed” with hushed, melancholic vocals, guitar, bass, and organ notes that swell on the chorus as Holly sings in a dreamier tone “Lost love stays here / and sorrow lingers on.”

Jason Boesel - Hustler's Son

Jason BoeselHustler’s Son

Jason Boesel is best known as the drummer for Rilo Kiley, but he’s also been behind the kit for bands like Bright Eyes, The Elected, and Conor Oberst and The Mystic Valley Band.  Jason goes the solo route on debut Hustler’s Son, where he plays guitar and sings, but also collaborates with various artists like Nik Freitas, Blake Mills, producer Jonathan Wilson, Orenda Fink, and fellow Rilo Kiley member Blake Sennett.

The result is a mellow collection of beach bonfire-ready, alt-country tunes based on breezy acoustic guitar strum and steady drum beats.  There’s nothing remarkable or distinctive to gush over, but then a pair of well-worn jeans usually doesn’t elicit cries of excitement.  Jason takes a comfortable, casual approach to his songs and vocals, displaying a competent, but limited range as a singer-songwriter.  Most of the songs sound like they’re cut from the same aural cloth, the exceptions being “Burned Out and Busted” with its melancholic, nocturnal vibe and the wearily sung lyrics “Burned out and busted / …tattoos and babies / Who knew that’s what love was all about?” and closer “Winking Eyes” where Jason emotes plaintively on the chorus sections.  Listeners will sigh wistfully while imagining what Evan Dando’s sun-kissed inflection could do to a tune like “New World Mama”.

Hawksley Workman - For Him and the Girls

Hawksley WorkmanFor Him and the Girls

Originally released in Canada in 1999, Hawksley Workman’s debut disc has recently been released in the U.S.  and Hawksley wrote, produced, and performed all of the material on this album himself.   On the opening track “Maniacs”, Hawksley performs rambunctious vocal acrobatics that recall Jeff Buckley for his vocal tone and unfettered release.  Discordant horns, cymbal shimmer, and low bass rumble accompany Hawksley on “Tarantulove”, where he traverses dark alleys on the verses against a measured beat, then lets loose on the ends of phrases of the first chorus, pushing out his vocals with force.

“Sweet Hallelujah” is a folky piano ballad which draws comparisons to Jeff Buckley’s version of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah”.  While Hawksley keeps this number low-key with banjo strum and a chorus filled with muted male and female voices, it’s striking how closely his vocal tone and inflection of the word ‘hallelujah’ mirrors Jeff Buckley.

Another piano ballad, “Don’t Be Crushed” is a showcase for Hawksley’s vocals as he sings in a middle range, but reaches out on the chorus, plaintively singing “Thank God you’re timeless / ‘cause my watch got stolen.”  Hawksley is willing to push past his comfort zone vocally on several of the songs, including “Baby This Night” where he emotes with fervor “Let’s be in love / like we’re the last on earth.” amid guitar strum and bright notes in the background.

Mika Miko - We Be Xuxa

Mika MikoWe Be Xuxa

The now-defunct, Los Angeles, California-based band Mika Miko is known for being one of the originators of “The Smell” music scene (or music venue) and the band members revel in a lo-fi, diy, indie rock sound of raggedy, exclaimed vocals, rudimentary guitar riffs, and bashed drums and cymbals.  The songs on We Be Xuxa are short and up-tempo with an amateur mixing quality that muddles all of the sounds into the same dynamic range, instead of contrasting them in sharp relief from one another.  The mid-range, dual, sing-talking (to sing-shouting) female vocals recall Donita Sparks and Suzi Gardner of L7, but the lyrics are hard to hear due to the muddy mixing.

For all of the bluster and hype surrounding the band as being part of “The Smell”, these songs come off too innocuous without a thrilling or dangerous edge to them.  The sonics emanate from the ‘anyone-can-play-guitar’ elementary school and the simplistic lyrics can be encapsulated in “I want turkey sandwich.” on “Turkey Sandwich”.  The songs aren’t ground-breaking and blend into each other, and while the band members have copious amounts of energy and attitude, musical aptitude is not captured effectively on this album at least.